Committee presents visions for borough schools

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Kaestle Boos Associates prepared this drawing of what Naugatuck High School could look like in 2025. While the outline of the school would remain the same, the interior would be renovated.
Kaestle Boos Associates prepared this drawing of what Naugatuck High School could look like in 2025. While the outline of the school would remain the same, the interior would be renovated.

NAUGATUCK — A special committee is solidifying plans for what it hopes the Naugatuck school district will look like by 2025.

The Long Term School Facilities Planning Committee is shoring up the details for two plans, dubbed the “Neth Plan” and the “Marenghi Plan,” it hopes to present to the public in the coming months.

At the committee’s meeting earlier this month, architects from Kaestle Boos Associates, Inc. presented a preliminary cost analysis for two proposals, which would change grade configurations and renovate several schools in the district. They also presented a feasibility study of a renovate-to-new project at the high school, according to Committee Chair Warren “Pete” Hess.

Hess said the committee discussed what needed to be done to modify those plans to make them more feasible.

“We’re getting more input from the architects on what adjustments need to be made to the plans before we can price them out in more detail,” Hess said.

The preliminary estimate for high school renovations is around $80 million.

Both plans included renovations to the high school, which would switch the locations of the track and football field with the softball and baseball fields. The two options presented by Kaestle Boos were similar, with the main difference being the size of the track.

The plans also assume the Board of Education would relocate its offices to the high school. The plans would enclose the open patio space at the entrance of the high school and turn it into the school’s offices.

The contrast between the “Neth Plan” and the “Marenghi Plan,” comes from how the lower grades would be configured.

Under Burgess Bob Neth’s plan, Andrew Avenue would be converted to a town-wide pre-k school. Maple Hill, Hillside, Hop Brook, and Cross Street would become kindergarten through fourth grade schools, and City Hill would hold grades five through eight.

Cross Street, and City Hill would be renovated-to-new, while the other schools would be updated to be compliant with new building codes. Cross Street would also see some new athletic fields. Prospect Street, Central Avenue and Salem schools would be turned over to the town for repurposing.

A preliminary rough estimate of Neth’s plan puts the total cost for the proposal at $177.2 million. However, another option under Neth’s plan would be to not do any work on Hillside and Cross Street schools and instead add a 120,000 square foot addition to City Hill Middle School, putting the cost at around $184.1 million.

Neth was not available to comment on his plan as of press time.

Under committee member’s Charles Marenghi’s plan, Andrew Avenue would be converted to a town-wide pre-K school. The elementary schools would be converted to hold kindergarten through sixth grade with separate buildings at each location, one for kindergarten through fourth grade and the other for fifth and sixth grades, and common core facilities.

“We know that that configuration works,” Marenghi said.

A 23,400 square foot addition would be added onto Hop Brook and Maple Hill. Cross Street would be converted to kindergarten through sixth and Salem and Hillside schools would be combined into one kindergarten through sixth school.

City Hill Middle School would be only for seventh and eighth grades, under Marenghi’s plan.

Cross Street, the combined Salem and Hillside, and City Hill would be renovated to new and the other schools would be updated for code compliance. Prospect Street and Central Avenue schools would be turned over to the town.

Marenghi said the committee has heard complaints from parents that their children are switching schools too often under the current system. Marenghi said his plan would allow students to stay in the same school for longer.

“It’s going to allow kids and parents to be part of the same school culture for seven years,” Margenghi said.

He said he hoped the arrangement would increase parent participation and the comfort level of students, who would move from one side of campus to the other after fourth grade instead of moving across town.

“Then they can go on to middle school well prepared without parents feeling strung out,” Marenghi said.

By taking some schools offline and allowing schools to share facilities, Marenghi said the system would free up staff and maintenance money.

A preliminary estimate put the total cost for Marenghi’s plan at $209.9 million.

Under Marenghi’s plan the kindergarten through sixth grade schools would become “mini-districts” that would integrate students from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, housing 450 to 550 students.

Marenghi hopes the schools would more equitably distribute resources.

“No child in town would be denied programs and opportunities as a result of their address,” Margenghi wrote in his proposal.

Meanwhile, the middle school would have between 700 to 900 students from all four elementary schools. The school would have a unified curriculum to introduce students to a career-focused instruction, easing their transition to high school, Marenghi wrote in his proposal. Students would be divided into teams, with groups of teachers working together.

“As a teacher I believe developmentally, this is the way to go,” said Marenghi, who teaches sixth grade in the borough.

As far as the high school is concerned, Marenghi said the committee agreed that renovate-to-new is the best option.

Renovations would include improvements to the infrastructure, like cracks in the walls, compliance with the American with Disabilities Act, updates to classroom design, wiring, technology and even furniture.

“I think it’s a kitchen sink project,” Marenghi said.

Some newer parts of the building, like the science labs and cafeteria, don’t need work, but others like the auditorium and former industrial arts wing need to be revamped.

Many classrooms haven’t been changed since they were first built in the 1970s.

“We are not in the bell-bottoms era and our classrooms shouldn’t be either,” Marenghi said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said that many of the changes would have to be made whether the high school is renovated-to-new or not.
“Unless the option is to do nothing, we’re going to have to make some investments in that building,” Mezzo said.

He said cracks in the walls won’t fix themselves, and without upgrades, the athletic fields will deteriorate and become unplayable.

Mezzo said the community should seek the most economically advantageous solution, which in this case would be renovating-to-new rather than making quick fixes one by one.

The committee expects to be reimbursed 74 percent of the costs by the state for renovate-to-new projects while repairs and maintenance would not be reimbursed.

The committee also discussed the possibility of converting Western School to an alternative school for students in seventh through 12th grade, who are struggling in the regular school district.

Once the committee irons out the details, they will be presented for discussion at a public hearing, probably some time in August.

At this point, the schools aren’t asking for any money and are not getting into the real nitty-gritty of building committees, Marenghi said. The planning committee is just looking for feedback from the public to see whether the town is ready to put together a plan to move Naugatuck forward.

The school planning committee sent the study to the capital projects committee for review. Eventually the plan will be handed over to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses which will appoint a building committee and send the project to referendum.